Former defense minister confirms knocked-back offer to run as president

Jüri Luik.
Jüri Luik. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Former defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) has told ERR he turned down the opportunity to run for president at the end of this month, deciding that a post he had already committed to as Estonia's representative to NATO would be a better use of his talents. As recently as four days ago, daily Postimees had reported he may still have been running.

Luik said that several political parties had courted him as a potential candidate. Luik, who also chose the NATO post over remaining in the Riigikogu, has been the subject of speculation over a run for the presidency for many months.

Luik told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) "I have indeed been approached by very different political parties on this issue. /.../ I know that other people, too, have been approached and made offers.

"For my part, I have underlined the fact that I chose, already in spring, the path where I will step aside from domestic politics and head to  NATO," Luik, a long-term defense minister who first held the role in the 1990s, told AK.

"I will start as ambassador to NATO which I think is an extremely important position for Estonia, as early as September, since, as I have said many times, without NATO we would be in very, very big trouble today," Luik went on.

In what could fairly be called another blow for the prestige of the role of head of state, Luik turned down the Reform Party and the Center Party – the two coalition partners – as well as his own party, Isamaa.

The three parties combined have 71 seats at the 101-seat Rigiikogu, meaning Luik would not only have received the 21 votes required to officially run for president, but would have passed the 68-vote threshold needed to get elected, assuming all MPs voted with their parties.

A search for a candidate amenable to Reform, Center and one other party – either Isamaa or the Social Democrats – has foundered so far, with two-and-a-half weeks to go until the presidential electoral process begins with ballots at the Riigikogu, on August 30.

An apparent compromise solution in academic Tarmo Soomere fell through due to an apparent lack of general support; former Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas is running for the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), but since that party has 19 seats at the chamber, Põlluaas' recent canvassing of the regions in Estonia may have been done as much with October's local elections in mind, as anything else.

Estonian presidents may not belong to a political party so must renounce their membership, if they have one, before taking up the post.

Current Riigikogu speaker Center Party leader and former prime minister Jüri Ratas has repeatedly had to deny he would be running for president himself, a move which would have meant him overseeing, as speaker, his own election.

Ratas has, however, expressed a desire to get the next president elected in the Riigikogu, rather than have the process drag out in the regional electoral colleges, as happened in 2016. This would also avoid a situation where the presidential process would abut on to the municipal elections on October 17 (with a six-day advance voting period).

Were the electoral college scenario to arise, Tarmo Soomere, Ratas also said, would have another chance at running, however.

Other figures whose names have recently been linked with the role of head of state are National Museum (ERM) director Alar Karis who rejected the proposal, pianist and entrepreneur Indrek Laul, who recently presented a document with his vision for Estonia to the parties, and former IT and foreign trade minister Kaimar Karu.

Current incumbent, Kersti Kaljulaid, is eligible for a second consecutive term. While Kaljulaid has not ruled returning as president either in or out, she has referred in social media posts in recent weeks to her current mandate as her "first term", has been making official visits abroad, including to the recent Tokyo Olympics, and has not been appointed to any other high-level international position, despite being linked with them as well.

Kaljulaid became president in November 2016 after both Riigikogu rounds of ballots and the electoral college rounds drew a blank. She was elected by a council of Riigikogu elders consisting of the speaker (at the time Eiki Nestor of the Social Democrats), his two deputies and the leaders of the (then six, now five) elected parties' Riigikogu groups, having been working at the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg up until that point.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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